Mark Burnett Mark Burnett

Can Mark Burnett save the Emmys? The reality-TV kingpin, currently riding high thanks to the success of his new NBC singing competition The Voice (not to mention the renewed interest in Celebrity Apprentice), has agreed to take on a task considered to be rather daunting and pretty thankless: producer of the 63rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.

Burnett's involvement at least proves that the TV Academy and Fox, which will air this year's ceremony on Sept. 18, are serious about shaking things up. Burnett brings a different set of skills and a fresh viewpoint to the Emmys, which could use an extreme makeover.

Burnett's no stranger to awards shows, having produced the MTV Movie Awards since 2007 and the People's Choice Awards since 2010. He's also not the first reality veteran brought in to reinvent the Emmys. American Idol executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick signed on in 2007 to produce the Emmys, but later bowed out due to other commitments.

Attempts to incorporate reality stars into the Primetime Emmys have had mixed results. The decision in 2008 to enlist Ryan Seacrest, Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst and Howie Mandel as Emmy co-hosts was widely panned. Then there was the year that the Emmys enlisted stars like Donald Trump to sing old TV theme songs and compete against one another.

In looking to bring some relevance back to the Emmys, there's only so much that Burnett will be able to do: Despite efforts by the networks and many inside the Academy to trim the number of awards in the telecast, they've so far been met with resistance by the various talent guilds. (Why is their approval important? The guilds agree to waive pricey fees that would otherwise come with running TV-show clips on the Emmy broadcast.)

With it nearly impossible to cut any categories from the telecast, Burnett must find a way to still make the Emmys entertaining while simultaneously squeezing in 27 awards (more than any other awards show). "That's too much," says one exec familiar with TV Academy politics. "The categories are not reflective of where the viewing audience is going."

That's one major reason that it took so long for the Big Four networks to strike a new eight-year, $66 million deal — finally signed on Wednesday — that will keep the Emmys rotating annually on those networks. The lack of a deal was starting to cast a dark shadow on this year's awards, until the Big Four finally agreed to stick with the status quo — at a slightly higher annual license fee. But both sides also agreed to meet annually and, in good faith, attempt to strike a solution. "The networks are saying, 'You guys want the money? We want you to dramatically decrease the number of awards on the show," says one executive. "They're at loggerheads."

Nonetheless, "My mission in producing this year's Emmys is to provide the absolutely most memorable television experience for the nominees, the winners and the viewing audience," Burnett said in a statement.

Burnett is also off to a late start: Because the renegotiation for a new deal to broadcast the Emmys wasn't resolved until May 4 — just four months before the broadcast — Burnett will have less time to prepare. (In comparison, last year's producer, Don Mischer, was announced in March 2010). At least Burnett knows how to quickly ramp up production, having managed to launch The Voice in record time. Paging Cee-Lo!

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